LeBron James’ amazing year – league MVP, NBA championship, NBA Finals MVP, Olympic gold medal – added another memorable accolade: comic book character.Marvel Comics and ESPN have teamed up for “LeBron: King of the Rings,” a limited-edition comic book that will be published in the Oct. 19 NBA Preview issue of ESPN The Magazine. A preview of the comic is currently available online at ESPN.com.The comic imagines what would happen if James actually did make good on his promise to bring Miami not one, “not two, not three. . . not seven” championships.”The story begins after Team USA wins Olympic gold, and it follows James’ journey through self-improvement, as he works on late-game free throws with Golden State Warriors legend and foul-shooting phenom Rick Barry picks up helpful pick-and-roll tips from Tibetan monks. Seriously.Along the way, he defeats a zombie Shane Battier and overcomes recurring quad injuries by building himself bionic legs. The comic follows him through the 2029-30 season, when, after finally winning his seventh title – as a Cleveland Cavalier, believe it or not — King James finally announces his retirement.Fans will have to wait to find out if LeBron wins that elusive eighth title, as the ending will be decided by a SportsNational poll on ESPN.com.The comic was announced at Saturday’s New York Comic Con by ESPN The Magazine editors Ty Wenger and Otto Strong.“We tried to play off the known story lines of LeBron James and his career,” Wenger said in an interview with Marvel.com. He also pointed to his “personal theory about why basketball and super heroes go together very well” as part of his inspiration for the story.There has been debate about whether James could eclipse Michael Jordan as the best player of all time. Chances are, Kobe Bryant will end up as the closet to touch Jordan’s legacy. But neither Bryant nor Jordan can claim to be a comic book hero.
Rivalry week, college football’s cancel-all-plans showcase in late November, is perennially viewed as having top billing on the sport’s calendar — chock-full of postseason implications in addition to bragging rights. But this year, there might be a challenger to rivalry week’s throne: There may be no more pivotal slate of games this season than that of Week 10, with three games on the Nov. 3 docket with critical consequences for the College Football Playoff.Our playoff model simulates every game of the season, extracting the likelihood of each outcome as well as the probability of every team to reach the final four. To help you prepare for Week 10, here are the games that matter most, as defined by their potential cumulative effect on the entire nation’s playoff chances. TeamCurrent Playoff %winslosesWeighted Difference* Kentucky6.8-0.6+1.30.8 31.4 Georgia32.2-1.6+3.72.3 Alabama66.8+12.2-27.817.0 Change in odds if Alabama… * Difference in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.† Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here. No. 4 Notre Dame (8-0) at Northwestern (5-3)Favorite: Notre Dame (70.7 percent)Total potential CFP swing: 31.4 pointsThe stakes: Few teams can challenge Northwestern for the national lead in inconsistency. The Wildcats have pirouetted to double-digit victories over two ranked opponents and come within fourth-quarter scoring drives of losses to upset-minded-but-inferior Nebraska and Rutgers. After dropping three of its first four games — including home losses to Duke and Akron — Northwestern responded by winning four straight Big Ten contests to occupy the driver’s seat of the Big Ten West.Notre Dame has handled its business — and still had to watch as one-loss LSU was ranked ahead of it on Tuesday night. Through no fault of its own, Notre Dame’s victories over then-No. 7 Stanford and then-No. 24 Virginia Tech haven’t exactly aged well. Now under the guidance of dual-threat quarterback Ian Book, Notre Dame’s offense has improved substantially, and Brian Kelly is shepherding one of his top defenses since his arrival in 2010.Considering that no team with three losses has qualified for the College Football Playoff in its four-year history, Northwestern faces long odds. But because of the imbalance in the Big Ten, the Wildcats have a clear path to the Big Ten championship and a resume-boosting opportunity to play a top-tier opponent, likely either Michigan or Ohio State, at the end of the season. So a loss this weekend would serve as a death knell, but a win keeps those slim hopes alive at 1.4 percent.Every team on the outside looking in is pulling for Northwestern, who could provide a huge odds boost to the other contenders with a win. Notre Dame controls its destiny, with a win improving its odds to 61.1 percent. But a loss would drop the Irish’s chances to 23.3 percent, suggesting that even with only one loss, it would need serious help to maintain its spot in the top four. Oklahoma35.3+0.6-1.40.9 Ohio State23.9+0.7-1.50.9 TeamCurrent Playoff %WinsLosesWeighted Difference Change in odds if Georgia… * Difference in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.† Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here. Georgia32.2%+12.4-30.1+/-17.5 No. 1 Alabama (8-0) at No. 3 LSU (7-1)Favorite: Alabama (69.4 percent)Total potential CFP swing: 43.6 pointsThe stakes: With both programs having two weeks to prepare, the Crimson Tide and Tigers will clash in a matchup that has often decided the SEC West division. This year’s installment pits one of the best LSU defenses in recent years against potentially the best offense Alabama has ever fielded.After losing to then-No. 22 Florida in Gainesville, LSU rebounded with consecutive wins over ranked opponents: a 36-16 disposal of then-No. 2 Georgia and a 19-3 thrashing of then-No. 22 Mississippi State. Four wins over ranked opponents charmed the College Football Playoff committee into putting the Tigers third in the first iteration of its rankings.1The Tigers are at No. 4 in the Associated Press poll.Behind Heisman front-runner Tua Tagovailoa and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s run-pass option attack, Alabama’s point margin is plus-252 in first halves this season, nearly 100 points better than any other team, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. In most seasons, it would be absurd to label a team as two-touchdown favorites against the third-ranked team in the nation, a team with a 1-in-5 chance of reaching the playoff — but that’s how good Alabama is. It’s been 21 years since LSU was this big of a home underdog.Even though the Tide have been unquestionably the most dominant team this season, a loss would still hurt — dropping their likelihood of reaching the playoff by nearly 30 points. An LSU win would give the Tigers nearly coin-flip odds (49.8 percent) of reaching the playoff, and it would provide a bump for Georgia (from 32.2 percent to 35.9 percent) and Kentucky (from 6.8 percent to 8.1 percent) because it would likely mean that neither of those SEC East leaders would face Alabama in the conference championship game. Should Alabama win, the Tide’s odds of reaching the playoff would spike to 79 percent. A loss for LSU would drop the Tigers’ chances to 7.1 percent, effectively removing the team from contention. Michigan26.6-2.0+4.82.8 Georgia32.2-0.9+2.11.2 TeamCurrent Playoff %WinsLosesWeighted Difference* Kentucky6.8-6.7+16.29.5 Alabama66.8-2.7+6.43.8 LSU20.2-0.8+1.81.1 Change in odds if Notre Dame … Ohio State23.9-0.5+1.10.6 Notre Dame50.0%+11.1-26.7+/-15.6 36.0 Total † Neil Paine contributed research.Check out our latest college football predictions. How Notre Dame-Northwestern swings the playoff picturePotential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Nov. 3 Notre Dame-Northwestern game Oklahoma35.3-0.6+1.40.8 LSU20.2%-13.0+29.6+/-18.1 Total† How Alabama-LSU swings the playoff picturePotential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Nov. 3 Alabama-LSU game Alabama66.8-0.8+1.91.1 How Georgia-Kentucky swings the playoff picturePotential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Nov. 3 Georgia-Kentucky game Total† No. 6 Georgia (7-1) at No. 9 Kentucky (7-1)Favorite: Georgia (70.8 percent)Total potential CFP swing: 36 pointsThe stakes: For the better part of three decades, Kentucky has served as the doormat of the SEC East, while Georgia has routinely contended for conference championships. So while it’s no surprise that the loaded Bulldogs have a 1-in-3 chance of returning to the playoff, few preseason prognosticators would have guessed that the Wildcats would be relevant this late in the season. But here we are, with coach Mark Stoops crowd-surfing in locker rooms as his team rattles off victories. The winner of Saturday’s ground-and-pound clash is guaranteed a spot in the SEC title game.Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm, who last season led Georgia to the national championship game as a true freshman, has withstood ample criticism and an eye-gouging in his sophomore campaign. As it stands, the Justin Fields experience is on hiatus. Across the field, Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson is largely tasked with getting the ball to Benny Snell Jr. ad nauseam. The sophomore has attempted only 153 passes this season — one more than Tagovailoa, who largely sits the second half of games.Saturday should be a blistering defensive fight. Kentucky has held seven consecutive opponents to fewer than 20 points, a feat last accomplished by the Wildcats nearly six decades ago. Both teams rank in the top 20 in opponent adjusted quarterback rating and in the top eight in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information.Whoever loses this game will see the near-annihilation of its playoff hopes: Kentucky’s odds would drop to 0.1 percent, and Georgia’s odds would drop to 2.1 percent. A win would improve the Wildcats’ odds to 16.2 percent, while Georgia’s odds would spike by 12.4 points to 44.5 percent. Kentucky toppling Georgia would greatly benefit just about every other team in the running: Alabama’s odds would jump to 73.2 percent, Notre Dame’s to 51.1 percent, Oklahoma’s to 36.7 percent, Ohio State’s to 25 percent and LSU’s to 22 percent. LSU20.2-1.1+2.61.5 43.6 * Difference in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.† Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here. Oklahoma35.3-1.1+2.81.6
Of all the storylines to watch as Major League Baseball begins the second half of the 2018 season, the most interesting might be whether the Seattle Mariners can hold on to their current position in the standings — and, in the process, end the longest active postseason drought in major professional sports. (The Mariners earned this dubious honor when the Buffalo Bills grabbed an AFC wild card last season.)It’s been a magical start to the summer so far in Seattle. Picked preseason to finish around .500, the Mariners instead sit nearly 20 games over that benchmark. Surprisingly, they spent much of the first half challenging the defending champion Houston Astros for the top spot in the American League West; they’ve also built for themselves a three-game cushion over the division-rival Oakland A’s in the race for the AL’s second wild card. (And they’ve done it even after losing star second baseman Robinson Cano, who was putting up great numbers before getting busted for steroids in mid-May.) If the regular season ended today, the M’s would finally be back in the playoffs.That would be a major accomplishment for a Seattle club that hasn’t tasted postseason baseball since its disappointing five-game exit from the American League Championship Series 17 years ago. When my former colleague Rob Arthur wrote about the Mariners’ streak a few seasons back, he found that no team in baseball had made the playoffs fewer times relative to expectation (based on their regular-season records) since 1998 than Seattle. It’s undeniable that, with just a little better luck, the Mariners would have sneaked into the playoffs at least a few times over the span of their drought. In that regard, they are long overdue to catch a break.In 2018, however, Seattle might be collecting all of the extra good fortune it’s owed at once. According to The Baseball Gauge, no first-half team exceeded its expected record more through luck in close games or favorable “sequencing”1Bunching hits within innings on offense and scattering them across innings on defense. than the Mariners. For instance, if you simply looked at Seattle’s runs scored (412) and allowed (414), you’d think it was precisely the .500-ish team that the preseason projections had called for. Instead, the Mariners have gone 26-12 in one-run games, which — while not exactly in 2016 Texas Rangers territory — suggests they could be due for a serious second-half downturn.In fact, Seattle’s combination of win-loss record and negative run differential is so unusual that it’s tough to find similar historical teams. Since 1950, the Mariners are the only team to be 19 games over .500 through a similar stage of the season2Specifically, between 90 and 100 games into the schedule. while also having a run differential below zero. But if we just limit ourselves to the 13 teams that were at least 10 wins above .500 and had outscored opponents by 10 runs or fewer through 97 games, those clubs won only 51 percent of their games over the rest of the season (an 83-win pace per 162). So the Mariners probably shouldn’t expect to keep cruising along at a clip remotely close to their current .598 winning percentage.Indeed, if the wheels do fall off for Seattle, naysayers may point to the team’s poor play just before the All-Star break — eight losses in its last 11 games — as a sign of when things started to go wrong. But ace pitcher James Paxton will be back from the disabled list soon, and Cano is eligible to return Aug. 14. Meanwhile, the time off should benefit the slumping quintet of Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy and Nelson Cruz, each of whom seemed to be running out of gas heading into the break.In the bigger picture, there’s also something to be said for the team’s overall balance as an antidote to the notion of an impending collapse. The Mariners are one of only six teams in baseball to rank among the top 10 in wins above replacement3Averaging together the WAR values found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. from both its pure hitting and its pitching, joining the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Dodgers — pretty good company! Of course, that brushes aside Mariner weaknesses such as baserunning (they rank 24th) and fielding (20th), but it also underscores that despite Seattle’s uninspiring run differential, the fundamentals of the team aren’t necessarily unsound.In order to stay on course for the playoffs, Seattle will need to keep getting unexpected performances like the ones they’ve enjoyed from first-time All-Star Mitch Haniger and journeyman-turned-10-game winner Marco Gonzales. Closer Edwin Diaz (who leads baseball with 36 saves) will have to keep slamming the door shut in the ninth inning, and the lineup will need to continue hitting well in big moments. None of that will be easy, especially not with Oakland zooming up in the rearview mirror. But after nearly two decades of the pieces never falling into place for a postseason push, it’s high time the Mariners had the breaks go their way.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller (5) throws the ball during a game against Indiana Nov. 23 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 42-14.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorOhio State junior quarterback Braxton Miller has made the decision to return for his senior season and not enter the 2014 NFL Draft.An OSU spokesman confirmed Thursday that Miller will return to OSU.Miller is the two-time defending Big Ten offensive player of the year and is coming off a season in which he finished in the top 10 in the conference in both rushing and passing yards per game.“I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year,” Miller said in a press release Thursday night. “Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I’m looking forward to working for another year with coach (Urban) Meyer and (offensive coordinator quarterbacks coach Tom) Herman.“And I want to graduate, so this will help get me close to my academic goal.”The quarterback is also coming off back-to-back losses, including a 40-35 defeat at the hands of Clemson in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl Jan. 3. Despite the losses, he has compiled a 28-8 record as the starting quarterback at OSU.Meyer said he is looking forward to working with the quarterback for another season.“We look forward to having Braxton Miller return to this team for his senior season,” Meyer said in the release. “He has been an extremely valuable member of our team and he is also a fine student. His desire to lead our team to a championship, to earn his degree from The Ohio State University net spring and to continue to improve as a quarterback are his motivation.”With Miller’s decision, the Buckeye offense will return five starters from a offense that finished the year third in the country in scoring offense with an average 45.5 points per game and seventh in total offense with 511.9 average yards per game.After the Orange Bowl loss, Miller said he was going to talk to coach Urban Meyer about whether or not he should turn pro.“I’ve got to think hard about it. I will talk to coach Meyer and see what he thinks,” Miller said. “He’s been through the process many times, so that’s the guy to go to. He never steers you wrong and ever since I got here, he took me under his wing and taught me a lot of things.”The Buckeyes are set to open their 2014 season with an Aug. 30 trip to Baltimore against Navy.
Balurghat: Ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the security in and around district collectorate building here has been tightened.As precautionary measures, the district administration has barricaded around 100 metres adjacent to the collectorate building with temporary bamboo fencing. According to an official source, all poll-related activities will be carried out from the office of district administration. Adequate policemen will be deployed in the area to avoid any untoward incident. According to the guidelines of Election Commission of India, no contesting candidate will be allowed to take out a procession while submitting nomination papers. Also Read – Rs 13,000 crore investment to provide 2 lakh jobs: Mamata”Stress has been given on ensuing free and fair poll in the region. No political party will be given permission for procession from March 28 onwards to April 4. Instructions have been given to police to check the entry of the candidates from the main gate of district administrative building with not more than three vehicles at a time,” said an official. Sufficient Central Reserve Paramilitary Forces will also deploy the area. District Election Officer and district magistrate Deepap Priya P recently conducted a high-level meeting with the police officers and the representatives of various political parties. Also Read – Lightning kills 8, injures 16 in stateA clear message has been delivered through this meeting that the district administration is determined to strictly implement EC norms. The border close to neighbouring Bangladesh is sealed. The candidates can submit the nominations between March 28 and April 4. Balurghat will vote on April 23, the third in the seven-phased Lok Sabha polls. On April 5, the nomination papers will be scrutinised while the last day of to withdraw candidature is April 8. The closing day for campaigning is scheduled on April 21. A total number of 14, 27, 567 people are expected to vote this year. Four major political parties —The Trinamool Congress, the BJP, the Congress and the RSP — are in the fray. Arpita Ghosh will contest once again from Balurghat seat on Trinamool ticket. Ghosh defeated RSP’s Prasanta Kumar Majumdar in 2014 to break the Left citadel. This time, RSP has fielded Ranen Barman, who had won 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004 LS polls from Balurghat seat while the BJP and the Congress have fielded Sukanta Majumdar and Sadik Sarkar as their candidates. Both Majumdar and Sarkar are new faces.